LONDON (AP) — Concerns are growing that Russia will not extend a United Nations-brokered deal that allows grain to flow from Ukraine to starving parts of the world, ships will not heading more to the Black Sea ports of the war-torn country and food exports are dwindling.
Turkey and the UN brokered the groundbreaking deal last summer to ease a global food crisis, as well as a separate deal with Russia to facilitate shipments of its food and fertilizer. Moscow insists it still faces obstacles, despite data showing it is exporting record amounts of wheat.
Russian officials have repeatedly said there is no reason to extend the Black Sea Grains Initiative, which is due for renewal for the fourth time on Monday. It’s something they’ve threatened before – then twice extended the deal by two months instead of the four months set out in the deal.
The UN and others are working to keep the fragile deal intact, with Ukraine and Russia being the two main suppliers of wheat, barley, vegetable oil and other foodstuffs the countries depend on from Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. It enabled Ukraine to ship 32.8 million metric tons (36.2 million tonnes) of grain, more than half of which to developing countries.
The deal has helped depress global prices for food items like wheat after hitting record highs after last year’s invasion, but that relief hasn’t reached kitchen tables.
Russia’s exit would cut off a source of World Food Program aid for countries at risk of famine, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan, and worsen food security problems in vulnerable places caught up in conflict. , economic crisis and drought.
“Russia is getting a lot of public goodwill to pursue this deal,” said Joseph Glauber, senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “There would be a cost to be paid in terms of public perception and global goodwill, I think, with respect to Russia” if the deal is not extended.
The amount of grain leaving Ukraine has already plummeted, with Russia accused of slowing down joint ship inspections by Russian, Ukrainian, UN and Turkish officials and refusing to allow more ships to join the initiative.
Average daily inspections – meant to ensure ships only carry food and not weapons that could help either side – have fallen from a peak of 11 in October to just over two in June.
This caused grain exports to decline from a high of 4.2 million metric tonnes in October to 1.3 million in May, a low for the one-year initiative. They rose to 2 million in June as the size of shipments increased.
If the agreement is not extended, “countries that relied on Ukraine for their imports are going to have to look to other sources of imports, most likely Russia, which I imagine Russia had the ‘intention,” said Caitlin Welsh, director of the Global Food and Water Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The UN negotiated with Russia to stick to the initiative, with spokesman Stephane Dujarric saying on Monday that senior officials are “doing everything we can to ensure the continuation of all agreements”.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said on Facebook on Tuesday that the last two vessels were loading grain – bound for Egypt – while 29 vessels waited in waters off Turkey because Russia refused to allow them to be inspected. .
“Ukrainian agricultural products play an important role in global food security,” Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said. But “for the past few months, the cereal corridor has been practically closed”.
Russia insists the deal has not worked for its own exports, accusing Western sanctions of hampering financing and insurance.
Although the sanctions do not affect food and fertilizers, Moscow is seeking to evade restrictions on the Russian Agricultural Bank, as well as the movement of its ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizers, to a Ukrainian sea port. Black. But the ammonia pipeline was damaged during the war, the UN said.
“There is still time to implement the part of the agreements that concerns our country. So far, this part has not been fulfilled,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters last week. “And so at the moment, unfortunately, we see no particular reason to extend This agreement.”
Russia, however, increased its wheat exports to unprecedented levels after a bumper harvest. Shipments fell from 33 million metric tons in 2021 to 44 million metric tons last year to expectations of 46 million this year, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights.
Meanwhile, shipments from Ukraine have fallen by around 60%, from 19 million tonnes in 2021 to forecasts of around 7 or 8 million tonnes this year, a blow to its oil-dependent economy. ‘agriculture.
With less Ukraine and more Russia, available wheat stocks around the world are the same as in 2021 – and there’s enough for everyone, said Peter Meyer, head of grain analysis at S&P Global Commodity Insights.
Europe and Argentina are expected to increase their wheat shipments, while Brazil had a record year for maize, of which Ukraine is also a major supplier. Meyer wouldn’t expect more than a temporary spike in grain prices on world markets if the Black Sea deal isn’t renewed.
“Markets adapt extremely quickly,” he said. “The fact is that world grain markets are balancing out.”
Ukraine can send its food by land or river across Europe, so it would not be completely cut off from the sale of grain, but these routes have less capacity than sea shipments and have caused havoc. disunity within the European Union.
“We are a cat short of lives in this situation,” said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. “It only takes one thing to go wrong before we get in trouble.”
While the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ food price index fell below the records reached when Russian troops entered Ukraine, food prices were already high in due to COVID-19, conflict and drought.
Second, Russia’s war helped drive up the costs of food production, including energy, fertilizer, and transportation.
In developing countries that are increasingly reliant on imported food, from Kenya to Syria, weakening currencies are keeping local prices high because they pay in US dollars.
“With around 80% of East Africa’s grain exported from Russia and Ukraine, more than 50 million people in East Africa face hunger and food prices have soared 40% this year,” said Shashwat Saraf, the regional committee of the International Rescue Committee. emergency director for East Africa.
“It is vital for the international community not only to forge a long-term agreement, but also to find lasting solutions to address food insecurity,” he said.
AP journalist Daria Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.
See AP’s full coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and the food crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/food-crisis.